Shooting a bow seems like an easy thing to do, but aiming it can sometimes be complicated (especially when bowfishing). There are two main methods that you can use for aiming a bow: using bow sights or instinctive shooting. Each one has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, but both can be productive with plenty of practice!
Aiming with Bow Sights
Bow sights generally work best when the distance to your target is known. For example, if you know that what you are aiming at is 20 yards away, you can more accurately aim and hit that target. It is simply a matter of lining up the appropriate sight pin on the target. In hunting and bowfishing situations where it is hard to know the exact distance sometimes, bow sights might not be as versatile. They do tend to be the most accurate but require you to practice judging distances.
Instinctive aiming is much more versatile than using a bow sight in order to aim a bow. With this method, you simply look at your intended target with both of your eyes open and release the arrow. You will adjust the aim for different distances by instinct developed with plenty of practice. Instinctive aiming takes more time to perfect than using a bow sight, but it is much more versatile. It will also eliminate the guesswork from shooting unknown distances while hunting or bowfishing.
Bow Sights vs Instinctive Shooting
So what is better, using bow sights or instinctive shooting? It really depends on a number of things. A lot comes into play with this question, such as your equipment, skill level, time to practice, and preferences. There are also a few key differences to keep in mind.
One thing to remember is that compound bows have a very specific bow length. After a certain point, it is very difficult to draw a compound bow further back, unlike a recurve bow. Because recurve shooters need to be careful about overdrawing, they sometimes use a tool to tell them when they are at the correct draw. Depending on the type of bow you use, this could be one more thing to have to think about, especially in a hunting situation.
Another thing to think about is the draw time and hold time for compound and recurve bows. Compound bows have a let off and are much easier to hold at full draw. Recurve bows do not have this at all and can be much more tiring to hold at full draw for a longer period of time. What you intend to use your bow for and what type of bow you have can help you decide what type of aiming you might want to use as well.
During the entire aiming process, many archers will find that they have much greater success not when they purposely move their arm to align with a target, but instead when they pay attention to the sight and the target. Releasing is done when the sight is over the target. While some archers may suffer from target panic using this method, it does seem to increase accuracy for many. For instinctive shooters, this is not a problem.
Instinctive shooting is a little easier to train for and understand. You basically see and shoot. You simply look at your target, draw the arrow, and shoot at the target without aiming or judging the distance. It sounds very simple, but it takes a lot of practice to become good at it. It takes a lot of muscle memory in order for this method to develop properly and become accurate.
Many people will compare instinctive shooting to throwing a baseball. You don’t really need to aim a baseball when throwing it, you just look at where you want it to go and throw it. The reason you don’t really need to think about the distance to the target and how you aim the ball itself is that you have thrown so many balls before that you already know how to do it. Your brain automatically makes the calculations for you, and with enough practice, it becomes second nature.
Which One Is Best?
Each method of aiming is different, and it all depends on you. For many hunters, they prefer the added accuracy and range that comes along with bow sights. For others, especially bow fishermen, they enjoy the versatility and ability to quickly draw and shoot without dealing with sight pins. Both methods of aiming have their merits, and each one will get the job done. It all just comes down to which one will work best for you.
At Loxley, we exclusively use instinctive shooting while bowfishing. We find this method to be the fastest way to get a shot off in a sport that requires quick reaction. It does take a lot of practice to get dialed in, especially if your experience with bows is primarily using sights. If you are new to bowfishing you will miss a lot when you start shooting, don't let this discourage you.
No matter which aiming method you decide to use, get plenty of practice so that you can be as accurate as possible. Even with bow sights, you will want to ensure that you are in sync with your equipment and efficient with your gear. Aiming a bow deals with a lot more than just what aiming system you are using, and practice will help you identify what other areas you might need to improve in. Even a little bit of variation in your archery form can throw off your shot, no matter what aiming method that you are using.
Aiming a bow is a lot more complicated than most people realize. While it may seem straightforward and simple (and maybe it is) it is definitely not easy. Whether you decide to aim your bow with the use of bow sights or decide to aim instinctively, you must fully commit to that method and send plenty of arrows down range in order to be the best archer that you can be and hit your intended targets.